His Honour the Vice President Rre Mokgweetsi Masisi has asked the nation to carefully listen to his boss President Ian Khama during the latter’s last State of the Nation (SONA) address on November 6, 2017. He is confident that his boss is going to make a major announcement presumably the one that turns the fortunes of Batswana for the better. But such promises have been made before which turned up to be a disappointing damp squib. So much noise was made about the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) whereupon the erstwhile Secretary General of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Botsalo Ntuane declared that he could not sleep as this was a masterstroke to finish off opposition parties’ hope of pursuing a dream of ruling Botswana. The ESP has since been dismissed as a complete failure by none other than the BDP Chief Whip and Letlhakeng/Lephephe MP Hon Liakat Kablay (Weekend Post online edition dated 22 August 2017-‘BDP MPs, Ministers clash over ESP’). If the hype around the multi-billion Pula ESP has not done well for the BDP so far as was suggested by Ntuane, what else would? Nothing, it would appear. The President’s term in office was highly expected to be characterised by his road map – the 5 Ds which he himself, publicly committed to. If he had religiously remained loyal to his road map which he expected us to commit to as well and justifiably so, I would be eager not to miss his SONA address because he would be rounding up his presidency with a bang and with such profound footprint that we would forever remember him for. The President bows out with Democracy, Discipline, Delivery, Dignity and Development with huge question marks hanging around them. In fact, the President’s 5 Ds have been such a complete failure that he hardly mentions them as they were his signature tune before. In this conversation, I look at how poverty and unemployment situations have not been convincingly addressed by the President. In his 5 December 2016 SONA address, there was no specific and detailed account on poverty reduction and unemployment. These life-and-death issues were instead referred to in passing in his 255 paragraphed speech.
His government has largely failed to deliver Democracy where his own party is refusing its own members who are civil servants to participate in its internal democratic processes – Bulela ditswe – is the case in point. If the party can stifle Democracy within itself, where else would it prevail? The President’s government has dismally failed to instil Discipline on its Ministers who have continued unabated, to run their ministries at some points with no boards of directors for example. We have seen how Ministers with impunity, went on window shopping sprees for aircrafts in Brazil and committing public funds to some questionable deals in Abu Dhabi. If Discipline was applied as we were made to believe it would, these ministers would have been the perfect example. To be fair to the President, the only D that he could confidently be proud of is Dignity in so far as the housing appeal initiative is concerned. Vulnerable members of the society have been provided with decent shelter. This is acknowledged! Development is seriously lacking behind because if the other Ds are compromised, the rest inevitably fail. To this day, you hardly hear the President, his deputy and ministers mentioning the 5 Ds in direct or veiled terms. They (5 Ds) have since ceased to be relevant to the political and socio-economic landscape of the country. When the 5 Ds failed to see light of day, anything that would follow would be disaster. The greatest threat and fear to ordinary Batswana is poverty and unemployment which I will argue, the President has failed to decisively deal with. Government has embarked on an overambitious path of poverty eradication as opposed to poverty reduction. It is not wrong to be ambitious or overambitious but it ought to be realistic given your prevailing circumstances and capacity. It is, however, acknowledged that the first Sustainable Development Goal of the UN aims to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”. For example, backyard gardening which was the flagship of His Honour the Vice President, has dismally failed and has in the process, left the would-be beneficiaries still trapped in poverty with huge arrears in water bills. He hardly talks about backyard gardening because there is nothing political to salvage. As someone said the other day, one doesn’t know whether to ‘yawn with boredom or laugh with disbelief’. There was no how this initiative could succeed given the severe water shortage in the country at the time. In the meantime, huge financial resources have gone down the drain. Given the limited resources which are themselves not properly managed in most instances (the Public Accounts Committee sessions with different accounting officers have proved it), Botswana cannot under our circumstances, eradicate poverty. That said; a lot of financial and other resources have been directed at poverty eradication. The question that the President has to answer on Monday is whether the returns from poverty reduction (eradication) initiatives are commensurate with financial resources so far invested. I am not suggesting however that government has not put in programmes to deal with poverty issues affecting Batswana.
In April 2014, The Voice newspaper carried a story titled “Govt. splash P293 M on poverty eradication” in financial years 2012/13 and 2013/14. The paper further quoted the Programme Coordinator as having said that “out of the 45,000 destitute Batswana identified across the country by social workers, 7789 have benefitted from the programme. At least 1169 beneficiaries are identified as success stories or excelling under the programme”. It goes without saying that 8958 beneficiaries have benefitted in one form or the other from the P293m. These numbers tell us on a very simplistic approach that poverty reduction is such a massive challenge to address, let alone poverty eradication. About 36 000 or so destitute Batswana were as at 2014, still out in the cold to benefit from the programme. Unemployment, which is a direct cause of poverty, continues to rise. It is suggested that the unemployment rate is at about 25% or thereabout. Nothing suggests this figure will reduce anytime soon. His Honour the Vice President and whose other task is to create jobs, is failing in this regard. He is the same man who chaired a cabinet sub-committee whose mandate amongst others, was to deal with extreme caution with the BCL mine situation given its importance to the overall national economy. His Honour would have been the last person to close the mine given his unfettered proximity to the skill and expertise of those who advise him in these kinds of matters. One would have thought that the caution would even be more extreme considering that he will be seized as the future President, with the ramifications of BCL closure politically and otherwise. The Provincial Liquidator’s report on BCL suggests that the mine was collapsed primarily by incompetent management as opposed to the line of argument pursued by government – mine unprofitability due to low commodity prices. In the process, over 5000 workers together with their immediate and extended family members, are not sure of their next meal. This is the result of economics playing second fiddle to political expediency.